And the Facebook Winner is…

Gate 1 Travel Australia Facebook fans would have seen our competition recently to Get Packing with Gate 1.

The happy winner of the Antler Suitcase Set is Donna B. from Queensland.

Thanks to everyone who entered and signed up to The Deal, Gate 1’s weekly travel email.

If you’d love the chance to get more info about Gate 1, enjoy seeing travel inspiration, like sharing your travel experiences, want to enter fun competitions and more, follow Gate 1 Travel Australia today!

Photo thanks to La Hoang, taken in Jordan.

Okavango Botswana

Botswana’s Finest: Chobe & Okavango

All is still. The morning light casts a soft glow on the savannah as elephant after elephant crosses the path of your safari vehicle, the little ones trotting alongside their mothers. You hear the heavy shuffle of their feet on dusty earth, a burst of air from a nostril. There must be a dozen or more. One turns to look your way and you gasp, too moved to reach for your camera. No, you resist needing to get a snapshot and live in the moment. This – the safari of your dreams – will be forever etched in your mind.

Africa plays in your memory long after you return. An endless expanse of plains, marsh and forest. A staggeringly starlit night sky. Exotic creatures vying for their very survival as they have for millennia. It is a privilege to witness Africa’s wondrous menagerie in its natural setting. And to do in a small group with Gate 1 Travel’s Discovery Tours is even more magical as we gain access to experiences that others miss.

Our Zambia, Botswana & South Africa Adventure visits two of southern Africa’s richest parklands, Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta, each a magnificent haven of unspoiled beauty and astonishing wildlife.

Chobe National Park: An Elephant’s Haven
For sheer concentration of wildlife, it’s hard to beat Chobe National Park, nestled amidst the northern savannahs of Botswana. Chobe is the country’s first national park, its third largest at 4,200 square miles and its most diverse. Among its lush floodplain and dense woodlands of teak and mahogany, giraffe, water buffalo, puku antelope and sable roam. Along the Chobe River, spoonbills, ibis, stork and other waterfowl patrol the waters for quick meals. In the early morning hours in the bush, you might even spot a pride of lions fresh from their nocturnal hunt.

But the big cats are not as plentiful here as the large and lumbering Kalahari elephant, the largest known pachyderm in the world. Only 30 years ago, the elephant population was in danger here, numbering a dismal few thousand. Preservation efforts, including anti-poaching patrols, were put in place and today the park supports some 60,000. Many environmentalists believe that the lineage of elephants here stretches back countless generations, making it the largest continuously surviving elephant population on the planet.

One of the most thrilling ways to explore Chobe National Park is by boat. In the heat of the afternoon, wildlife often gathers at their watering holes. Antelope, water buffalo and baboons congregate to drink or hunt, watched over by bateleur eagles, lappet-faced vultures and other raptors. Hippos peek above the water’s surface or graze along the river’s banks. But the highlight of any boat trip is the parade of elephants emerging from the bush to drink and bathe in the refreshing Chobe. If you’re lucky, you’ll witness just such an assembly firsthand.

Okavango Delta: A Watery Oasis
One of the most adventuresome ways to see Africa is by bush plane. From several thousand feet in the air, the continent’s wild expanse of savannahs, grasslands, marshes and forests stretches to a limitless horizon. Far below, you might spot tiny dots roaming the landscape, tendrils of brown dust trailing behind: perhaps zebras wandering to their next water hole. It’s an astounding glimpse of a timeless world.

Thanks to the size of our Discovery Tours small group, bush planes fly us to the Okavango Delta, deep in the wild heart of Botswana. The Okavango is by some accounts the largest inland delta in the world, fed by a remarkable natural cycle of feast and famine.

When the Okavango is flooded, you would never know that this huge region borders the sands of the arid Kalahari Desert. It helps to bear in mind that the delta receives a vast amount of its water from faraway rains. Each year, heavy rainfalls soak the Angola highlands and their waters pour into the Okavango River. The river flows into Botswana with a volume so enormous that its terminal marshlands push southward, surging into the dry and barren delta region. It is a flash flood of biblical proportion: the delta is so large – as big as Switzerland – that it takes the water up to four months to fill it. Months later, the water is gone, lost to evaporation, plant life, or absorption into the earth.

The annual flood creates a massive network of rivulets, channels, temporary islands and lakes. It also attracts countless wildlife – from lions to cheetahs, from giraffe to hyenas, from crocodiles to hippos. An estimated 200,000 large mammals and 400 species of birds congregate here, then depart to greener pastures as the water dissipates and the grasses grow sparse once again. It’s been said of the Okavango that you’re having a great safari day if you see 10% of the wildlife that sees you!

Such a unique ecosystem requires a unique safari vehicle. In addition to the trucks and Jeeps specially equipped to cross shallow streams, our small group explores by handmade dugout canoes, or mokoros. These low-riding boats seat two, and your private punter in the back pushes you through a labyrinth of waterways, following his keen senses so you’ll get an intimate view of the delta’s wildlife and plant life – perhaps tiny frogs clinging to reeds or small islands of lily pads.

We invite you to fulfill your safari dreams in two of southern Africa’s most splendid reserves. Click here for details about our Zambia, Botswana & South Africa Adventure and other exciting Discovery small group tours!

Latin AmericaRegions

Costa Rica & Guatemala: Wonders of Central America

Central America is one of the most unique regions in the world. Any visit reveals a compelling blend of Mesoamerican cultures, Spanish colonialism and a lush, untouched wilderness where you can experience mountain rainforests and coastal splendour in the same day.

For its welcoming spirit and passion in preserving its natural world, Costa Rica stands out. And its cousin to the north, Guatemala, shares an equal passion in keeping colourful Mayan traditions alive.

COSTA RICA: The Greenest Country on Earth
The Happy Planet Index, a measure devised by the new Economics Foundation, calls Costa Rica the greenest country on Earth. Little wonder: its varied terrain is blanketed in lush rainforest, towering mountains, sizzling volcanoes and pristine plains and coastlines. This small country (just a quarter of a percent of the earth’s surface) boasts a full 5% of the planet’s biodiversity. This is not a natural phenomenon alone; it is the result of the efforts of local ticos to keep their country unspoiled. Consider that 25% of Costa Rica’s land is protected as national parks and conservation areas and you’ll quickly understand why this tiny country is indeed a model for a happy planet. And Gate 1 Travel introduces you to its most magnificently preserved corners.

San Jose: Gateway to Breathtaking Beauty
Journeys in Costa Rica begin in San Jose, the capital built by coffee barons. As their wealth grew, they imported the talent of European architects and artisans to create a graceful cityscape of plazas and stately buildings. Affectionately called “Chepe” by locals (after the nickname for “Jose”), San Jose boasts a lovely mountain setting. La Sabana Park makes for delightful strolls along green pathways. The city’s finest historic buildings are the National Museum, housed in a butter-yellow 19th-century fortress, and the neo-baroque National Theatre.

Into the Highlands: A Magical Forest and a Soaring Volcano
North of San Jose, emerald hillsides undulate over soaring mountains and fertile plateaus fed by rivers and streams. Living is simple here, as a stop in the village of Sarchi shows. In this artisan town set among coffee fields, workshops produce wooden furniture and ox carts (carretas) painted with colourful floral scenes or geometric designs. Sarchi’s pastel-hued church in the town square is a sight to behold.

In these highlands, it’s easy to get a sense of how fully Costa Ricans respect their land. Endless sugarcane nurtured by rich volcanic soil covers the countryside as farmers tend their fields. The pace is slow and patient and tuned to the cycle of crops. And in the Monteverde Cloud Forest, a soft mist casts a mystical aura. These hills are often engulfed in clouds, the result of humid trade winds rolling up from the Caribbean Sea. The moisture supports a huge array of flora – more than 3,000 species – and more than 500 species of birds, including the elusive resplendent quetzal. Over 130 mammals, like the booming howler monkey, also roam the forest. We stop at a local finca, or coffee farm, to meet a farmer who makes a living from the ubiquitous bean that’s so central to Costa Rica’s economy. Optional walkway tours amidst the forest canopy and along hanging bridges let you peer into a world you never knew existed – the thriving life in the treetops.

North of Monteverde, a wonderland of lakes, forests, thermal-fed springs, and lunar landscapes awaits in the beautiful Arenal region. This outdoor lover’s paradise has been sculpted over thousands of years by the Arenal Volcano, whose towering conical form stands watch over the eponymous lake, dense forest and lava-strewn terrain. Hiking opportunities abound here, and Gate 1 travellers can explore along the Las Coladas trail, whose route snakes around the volcano’s base and passes otherworldly lava flows from past eruptions. You’ll also have the option to soak in some of the region’s famed hot springs and explore the shores of Lake Arenal on a boat tour.

Comb Costa Rica’s Caribbean & Pacific Coasts
Some of the most rewarding explorations of Costa Rica’s natural world unfold closer to its coasts. This is certainly true in Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean Sea. The park was established to protect the nesting ground of the green turtle and covers 14 miles of tropical shores. The only roads here are canals and inlets, so we explore this watery wonderland by boat, stopping along the way for up-close views of caimans, otters and white-faced monkeys. We meet locals at a Tortuguero village and learn more about turtles – greens, leatherbacks and loggerheads.

On the northern Pacific coast, Guanacaste Province is home to more diversity. Volcanoes reach to the skies, rivers course through valleys, dramatic beaches with pounding waves draw a surfing culture and lush rainforests share the stage with arid woodlands and plains. It’s a region ripe for exploring and Gate 1 helps you do just that, with the option to sail along Costa Rica’s Gold Coast or relax on the beach.

Farther south, Manuel Antonio National Park unfurls its rainforest splendour along the Pacific. Though it only comprises about six square miles, it boasts an amazing biodiversity of flora and wildlife. Sightings of macaws, sloths, monkeys, and others are virtually guaranteed here; we’ll keep our eyes peeled along its trails. Our options to explore by horseback; ascend into the canopy for a bird’s-eye view; or snorkel, dive or fish in pristine waters promise even more thrills. En route to Manuel Antonio, we discover that there’s more to the breathtaking coast than its natural beauty as we visit the small town of Jaco, a national surfing center.

GUATEMALA: Mayan & Colonial Glories
Costa Rica is not alone as a “biodiversity hotspot” in Central America. Guatemala also boasts some of the greatest variety of flora and fauna on earth. But the country’s colonial and Mayan past enjoy more attention. Even the capital, Guatemala City, was famously built around the ancient Mayan city of Kaminaljuyu, now a cherished archaeological site with evidence of pyramidal mounds.

The historic city of Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its Spanish-baroque architecture and colonial-era churches. You just might feel that you’ve landed in a city torn from Spain’s past as you admire the arcaded Palace of the Captains-General, resplendently preserved churches and monastery ruins.

But the region’s indigenous culture is still very much alive in Guatemala. Ancient Mayan ways are on full display in Chichicastenango, a mountain town best known for its outdoor market brimming with textiles, wood carvings, candles and pottery. Nearby, the town’s Church of Santo Tomas has overseen the scene for 400 years, ever since its foundation was first built over a pre-Columbian temple. More remnants of Mayan culture cling to the shores of Lake Atitlan, formerly a volcanic caldera and now the deepest lake in Central America. The 12 lakeside villages here are a delight to roam, nestled gracefully in a setting that Aldous Huxley called “too much of a good thing.”

Guatemala’s most dramatic echoes of the Maya whisper among the walls of its ancient cities, most notably Tikal. Exploring its brilliantly crafted stone pyramids, ceremonial sites, palaces, and temples—surrounded by dense forest and serenaded by exotic bird song—is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Explore Costa Rica & Guatemala Your Way with Gate 1 Travel
Costa Rica is such a diverse country, it calls for a diversity of travel styles. That’s why Gate 1 Travel offers so many ways to explore its natural wonders. If some destinations interest you more than others, you’re sure to find the perfect combination among our fully escorted itineraries, lasting as little as 7 days or as long as two weeks. Each trip includes accommodations, many meals, services of a Tour Manager and a full array of sightseeing, combined with time to explore on your own.

If you prefer the flexibility of arranging your own itinerary but still want to take advantage of Gate 1’s buying power, then choose one of our Fly & Drive options, lasting from 5 to 12 days. These unregimented trips include airfare, hotel and car rental, then you’re free to explore independently.

If your sights are set on Guatemala, Gate 1 can take you there during a 5-night itinerary. Or, combine your Costa Rica and Guatemala experiences into one adventure!

With so much spellbinding beauty and such rich and rewarding cultures to explore, and with the most affordable price you’ll find anywhere, Gate 1 Travel is your clear choice to explore Costa Rica and Guatemala!

Latin AmericaRegions

6 Reasons to Visit South America

There’s not much South America doesn’t have to offer those who wander this vast continent. From natural beauty, wildlife experiences and historical sights, to unique food, music and diverse culture – there’s something for everyone to discover in South America.

1. It’s diverse and otherwordly landscapes will leave you breathless
More than twice the size of Australia and possessing one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, South America has a nature playground for everyone. If you favour picturesque mountain peaks and mammoth glaciers then Patagonia is the spot for you. Once considered a trekkers paradise, there are now many ways to explore this region that are easier on the knees! Don’t miss Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate, Argentina.

For those who prefer tropical climates and beaches, Brazil is unmatched. On the border of Argentina and Brazil lies the must see natural wonder of the world, Iguazu Falls. Boasting 275 waterfalls and home to the cheeky possum-like coatis, this attraction is unforgettable. Stunning Rio de Janeiro is another must visit. Relax on Ipanema beach with a caprihiana in hand admiring the view of the Two Brothers Mountain, known to locals as Morro Dois Irmaos.

Ancient Inca lost city Machu Picchu, Peru.

2 . It is the mecca of bucketlist experiences
Voted in 2007 as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu is high on most adventurer’s bucket lists. Although still very much a mystery, historians believe that this 15th century Inca citadel located in the Cusco Region of Urubamba was built in 1450 and abandoned a century later when the Spanish conquistadors invaded. It remained unknown to the world until it was discovered by an American historian by the name of Hiram Bingham in 1911. Now over 1.5 million tourists visit the site every year, but with Gate 1 you won’t feel like part of the crowd because you’ll be there at the best times and escorted by the best local guides to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Another South American icon which is also listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World is the Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) statue which sits atop Corcovado mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The statue is 30 metres tall and 29 metres wide and weighs 635 tons! While it is truly inspiring for those who visit, the attraction also provides stunning vistas of the city of Rio De Janeiro and neighbouring Sugarloaf Mountain.

3. Peru’s capital of Lima is one of the world’s leaders of gastronomy
Ceviche, lomo sataldo & picarones – oh my! Peruvian cuisine has recently exploded onto the international culinary scene and now Lima is a well-known hot spot full of gastronomic delights. Indigenous foods which have been around for generations have been infused with Spanish flair as well as Asian flavours, which were bought to Peru with a wave of immigrants. Some must-try Peruvian fare includes Peru’s national dish ceviche; a fresh fish dish whereby the fish is ‘cold cooked’ in lime juice. There’s also lomo saltado, a beef dish which represents the fusion of Chinese stir-fry with traditional Peruvian ingredients, and a type of doughnut called picarones for dessert. For the brave there is also Cuy, roasted Guinea Pig! Wash it all down with a pisco sour or a bottle of Inca Cola, a sweet, florescent yellow soda that’s much-loved by Peruvians and tastes like fruity bubblegum but is made with lemon verbena.

4. It has a diverse culture and rich history
South America is made up of 13 different countries, each with their own unique culture, heritage and even climate. Even countries with similar traditions and heritage have distinct differences which set them apart. For example, Peru and Bolivia both still carry on traditions from the early Incan civilisations, however their traditional dress is quite different. In Bolivia it is common for local La Paz women, also known as “cholitas”, to wear bowler hats and pleated skirts which were bought to the countries by Englishmen in the 1800s. Another example is Argentina and Chile, who both share similar climates and beautifully preserved colonial cities, however have distinct cuisines and Spanish dialects.

One cannot visit Argentina without trying their world-famous Asado, a barbeque cooked on a grill called a parilla or on an open fire. For history buffs, follow the steps of the Spanish Conquistodors and visit the cities of Cartagena in Colombia, Cuzco in Peru and Cuenca in Ecuador to gain insight into these country’s legacy and the era of colonial conquest.

One of the Galapagos Islands’ most famous residents, the giant tortoise

5. Astounding Wildlife Experiences
Unique close encounters and wildlife experiences await nature lovers in South America. The stand out is of course the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, which is home to 14 unique species of animals and birdlife. Made famous by Charles Darwin during his development of the theory of evolution in 1859, this cluster of volcanic islands provides visitors the opportunity to get incredibly close to the wildlife due to the isolated environment and lack of predators. Among the favourites are the Galapagos Tortoise, Marine Iguana and Blue-footed Booby.

Often referred to as the ‘world’s lungs’, the Amazon basin which crosses through 9 different countries is home to more than 40,000 species of plants and more than 4,500 animal species plus an estimated 200 local tribes. Travellers can visit the dense jungle in the northern parts of Peru or the drier pampas region in Bolivia. The Pantanal wetlands in Southern Brazil is another region known for its remoteness and those who venture there may even have the opportunity to spot a jaguar!

6. The festive culture will invigorate you
If the Amazon is the lungs of the world then Buenos Aires is the feet and Rio De Janiero its heartbeat. Music and rhythm runs through the veins of South Americans and they love nothing more than to dance, sing and get festive! Samba is the flavour in Brazil and Carnivale is its most famous celebration. More than two million people gather in the streets of Rio De Janeiro every day of the festival in February to celebrate in honour of the gods and to respect the great waters.

In Argentina the locals move to the rhythm of the tango which has its cultural home in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of La Boca. Further north in Colombia the salsa is the most popular form of social dance and has its own distinct style. Get inspired by the heat of the Latin night, grab a partner and learn some new moves. No matter where you are in South America there will always be time to move those hips!

No one knows South America like Gate 1 Travel, with expert Tour Managers hailing from the very countries they’re introducing you to. Their insider knowledge and connections are invaluable in ensuring you get the most from your visit. What’s more, our 30+ years of experience in the continent lets us offer you more ways to discover its magical wonders.

Explore the very best of South America with Gate 1 Travel’s 18 Day Classic Brazil, Argentina and Peru escorted tour, which includes visits to Machu Picchu, Rio de Janeiro, Iguazu Falls and Buenos Aires. Or choose from our wide selection of trips in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and more!

G1 Photo Friday

Jordan Rocks Gate 1 Photo Friday

The city of Petra is known for being built and carved into the surrounding rock. This ancient city, located in the southwestern desert of Jordan, is surrounded by mountains with plenty of passages and gorges. The Siq is pictured and it is the main entrance to beautiful Petra. This passage gets as narrow as 10 feet at some points and walking through is a highlight of any visit.

This week’s #g1photofriday was uploaded by user @betbjbettyjean using the hashtag #gate1travel.

Be sure to tag your photos on social media with #gate1travel or #g1photofriday to be featured. Check out Gate 1 Travel’s Jordan tours here!


Seeing More of Israel…For Less

Gate 1 Travel knows Israel like no other travel company. Thanks to our longstanding and enduring relationships throughout the country, we can offer an unmatched experience that provides endless insight into its natural and cultural treasures, all at the best value you’ll find anywhere. There are as many reasons to visit Israel with Gate 1 Travel as there are historic and religious sites in this incredible nation.

Inspiration knows no bounds in Israel. Its culture, religion and history converge into a nation unlike any other. We invite you to join us in this land that we know so well.

Jerusalem: The Soul of Israel
Perhaps no other city in the world boasts such a dense concentration of religious sites as Jerusalem. Many call this city the soul of Israel, and it’s easy to understand why. Powerful emblems of faith appear on every corner of the Old City, as you’ll see in the Stations of the Cross that line the Via Dolorosa, or Way of Sorrows. Jesus is said to have walked this road while bearing His cross. This pilgrimage route – and our own walk – ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site of His crucifixion. It’s a particularly moving visit – especially if you also pay homage at the place of His birth, Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, and at the Church of the Annunciation in the city of His youth, Nazareth.

In the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount – crowned by the gilded Dome of the Rock – is said to shelter the Talmudic source of life, the site from where God gathered dust to create man. In Islamic faith, it is the location of Mohammed’s ascent to heaven. More than this, it is a symbol of unity, as Gabriel brought Mohammed here to pray with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. The Western (or Wailing) Wall borders the temple – a pilgrimage site where the devout worship and insert prayerful slips of paper in the crannies between the mortar and rock. It is impossible to not be moved by the power of this place. We’ll examine it all as closely as religious law allows, then step outside the Old City for a breathtaking bird’s eye view from atop Mt. Zion – site of the ancient City of David.

Jerusalem’s new city is no less inspiring, as you might choose to discover for yourself. At the Israel Museum, art and archaeology from the country’s millennia of history are on display, none more remarkable than the fourth and fifth-century Dead Sea Scrolls, housed under an impressive white dome. From inspiring to sobering, you may also visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

During your stay, you can join our excursion to test the Dead Sea’s buoyancy; its waters are 34% saline! Farther south, the towering massif of Masada tells the dramatic story of 960 Jewish rebels who, in AD 73, committed suicide rather than surrender to the Roman Empire.

Tiberias: Gateway to the Jordan River Valley: The “Garden of God”
The River Jordan played a crucial part in Christian theology, the scene of miracles, battles, and baptisms. Most notably, John baptized Jesus in its waters at a site that we’ll visit. Today, the valley’s fertile history is on rich display and you can unravel it all, and so much more, during an enriching stay in Tiberias, hugging the Sea of Galilee’s shores. Nearby Beit She’an, a city dating to the 15th-century BC, invites you to stroll through 5,000 years of history.

Thousands of years of Canaanite, Egyptian, Roman, Arab, Byzantine, and Ottoman history blanket the shores of the Sea of Galilee. There will be ample time to explore Tiberias on your own – perhaps sampling one of its soothing thermal springs. But we suspect you’ll want to set out to discover more of Israel’s wide variety of sites. In Upper Galilee, a mystical Kabbalah artists’ colony welcomes you, and in the Golan Heights, you may sample special vintages at a kosher winery. Perhaps, too, you will visit the remarkably historic port city of Acre, or Akko, where echoes of knights and crusaders whisper in Ottoman-era medieval streets and explore the ancient ruins of Capernaum and the fabled spot where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, the Mount of Beatitudes.

Haifa & Tel Aviv: “Israel’s Riviera”
The Mediterranean Sea does not spring to everyone’s mind when they think of Israel. But some of the country’s most beautiful places grace its sun-kissed coast. The splendid terraced Baha’i Gardens offer magnificent views of Haifa. Mt. Carmel was the spot of Elijah’s sacrifice by fire by which he miraculously ended a drought. And in Caesarea, seat of Pontius Pilate and of impressive Roman and Crusader ruins, Herod the Great built a city to rival Rome. With the blue waters of the Mediterranean as their backdrop, these historic sites are all the more magnificent.

If Jerusalem is Israel’s soul, Tel Aviv is its beating heart. This young and vibrant city on the sea never sleeps and offers a fun and fascinating glimpse into the country’s modern lifestyle. Whether you prefer an hour on the beach or an afternoon shopping at the Dizengoff Center, Tel Aviv never disappoints. By contrast, in the city’s southern districts, Jaffa or Joppa is a wellspring of biblical and rabbinical history.

Our Essential Israel and Affordable Israel programmes offer Gate 1’s best value. But of course, there’s more to this magnificent country, from the stark beauty of its deserts and rich kibbutz culture to the staggering sites of its neighbour, Jordan. On these inspiring journeys, too, Gate 1’s value can’t be matched.

Take the Road to the Red Sea
In the south of Israel, the Negev stretches to the Red Sea. The desert makes for a mesmerizing drive through arid plains, but it’s not all barren land. At Kibbutz Sde Boker, the first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, retired and passed away. We’ll stop to pay respects at his grave. Farther south, the small town of Mitzpe Ramon sits on the northern ridge of the Ramon Crater. This once-forgotten enclave, built as a camp for the workers who laid the road to the Red Sea, is coming into its own as an eco-tourist destination.

The sea resort town of Eilat is a geographic crossroads; Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are all visible from this northern tip of the Red Sea. Our days here are unregimented, with lots of time to swim or snorkel. And there’s plenty more to explore: join optional tours to the magnificent ancient city of Petra or to the Timna Valley, home to incredible rock formations carved by desert wind and the once-active copper mines known as King Solomon’s Mines.

While You’re Here, Marvel at Jordan’s Wonders
Throughout our Israel trips, Jordan is always right across the border. So it only makes sense to select an itinerary that also explores this welcoming and remarkable country. Its gleaming capital Amman, called the “White City” for the stone used to build its houses, is rich in culture and tradition. Outside Amman, Jerash – the “Pompeii of the East” – provides incredible insight into the lives of the Romans in one of their more remote outposts. And on the summit of Mt. Nebo, you’ll not only have views of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea; you’ll also see the reputed burial site of Moses. But perhaps Jordan’s most magnificent gem is Petra, the red sandstone city carved into rocky cliff faces.

Unravel Israel’s Mysteries with Gate 1 Travel
No matter how you choose to visit Israel with Gate 1, you’ll discover that this small country holds countless surprises. We offer numerous comprehensive tours packed with sightseeing. One thing is certain: whether this is your first visit or your fifth, we’ll show it all to you at a price that beats any other tour operator. Join us!


Getting off the Elephant’s Back

Over recent months, Gate 1 Travel has undertaken an extensive review of our activities that include animal encounters, with particular focus on elephant riding and sanctuary visits.

We have done everything possible to ensure that the elephants and other animals that our travellers interact with are treated ethically, and we strive for experiences which are fulfilling for both the animals and tourists. However, the fact remains that for elephants, being ridden or performing tricks is not natural behaviour. It’s nearly impossible to guarantee that there has not been mistreatment during their training or that the animals were not illegally captured. On top of this is a disturbing increase in the number of attractions in Asia claiming to be sanctuaries, rescue centres or retirement camps, but sadly some of these facilities practice the same abusive training methods and deprivation that has lead to the tourism industry mounting a campaign against animal cruelty.

In consideration of these continued concerns and feedback received from our travellers, Gate 1 has decided to withdraw from our itineraries any sites and experiences with elephants, other than those encountered in the wild.

We hope you will join us in helping to protect elephants and supporting animal welfare.

Photo thanks to @davelaura


The Remarkable Monasteries of Armenia & Georgia

The cultural heritage of Armenia and Georgia reaches back to ancient times. Perhaps because of their proximity to the Holy Land, in the 4th century they were the earliest countries to embrace Christianity as the official religion. Faith was so central to daily life that dozens upon dozens of monasteries were built amid awe-inspiring mountains and valleys, villages and cities. In Gate 1’s Discovery small group, we access 8 of these most sacred of places.

In Armenia:

Geghard (4th century). This UNESCO World Heritage Site was partially carved into a rocky mountainside. Gregory the Illuminator, who is credited with converting the country to Christianity, built the monastery where sacred waters sprung from inside a cave. Its original name, Ayrivank, means “Monastery of the Cave,” while the current name translates into “Monastery of the Spear,” referring to the Crucifixion weapon which wounded Jesus and was later brought here by the Apostle Jude. Seemingly carved from the cliffs, it is an astonishing and inspiring sight.

Khor Virap (7th century). Because of its proximity to Mt. Ararat – the peak on which Noah’s Ark is said to have landed after the floods subsided – Khor Virap is one of Armenia’s most visited pilgrimage sites. Set on a hill in the Ararat plain with crystal-clear views of Noah’s mountain, this is where, centuries before the church was built, Gregory the Illuminator healed the King of Armenia, Tiridates III, who went on to convert his country.

Noravank (13th century). This UNESCO World Heritage Site was built in a narrow gorge carved by the Amaghu River. The gorge’s brick-red cliffs create an otherworldly setting for this historic monastery. Soon after its opening, it houses the region’s bishops and subsequently became a major gathering place for religious, cultural, and academic pursuits. Noravank’s stone carvings and rust-hued architecture feature highly artistic flourishes that take the breath away.

Tatev (9th century). Perched on a rocky outcropping, Tatev has played a vital role in the culture and heritage of Armenia. Here, in the 14th and 15th centuries, the University of Tatev educated students in science, religion, philosophy, and the arts. In those days, visitors had to hike far distances to get here; today, you will reach its heights via the “Wings of Tatev,” the world’s longest non-stop double-track cable car.

Haghpat (10th century). Located on a green hillside in a mountainous amphitheatre, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is hailed as one of the highest expressions of Armenian ecclesiastic architecture. A centre of learning in the Middle Ages, its church remains much as it was when it was constructed. The scriptorium still has holes in its floor, used to hide valuable scrolls when marauders and thieves came calling.

In Georgia:

Alaverdi (6th century). Set in an emerald valley against the drama of alpine peaks, Alaverdi boasts the second tallest cathedral in Georgia (the tallest is in the capital, Tbilisi). When the Assyrian monk Joseph Alaverdeli arrived here and founded his monastery, he had to be sure-footed: the village’s pagan population worshipped the Moon. Alaverdi is located in the world’s oldest wine region; still today the monks who live here make their own.

Ikalto (6th century). Founded by a group of 13 Assyrian missionaries who came to Georgia from Mesopotamia to spread Christianity, Ikalto became a bustling centre of culture and learning. All manner of studies took place here in the 12th century, contributing to the Renaissance-like Golden Age of the region – from theology to astronomy, philosophy to geometry, wine making to pharmacology.

Jvari (6th century). Dramatically perched atop a hill, this UNESCO World Heritage Site overlooks the small town of Mtskheta. Its origin seems to rest in the 4th century, when a female evangelist, Saint Nino, raised a large wooden cross on the hilltop where a pagan temple once stood. The cross is said to have performed miracles, which attracted pilgrims from throughout Caucasus.

No matter your beliefs, these ancient monasteries inspire – with their dramatic settings, their innovative architecture, their intricate decoration and their perseverance over a long and sometimes turbulent past. We know you’ll discover some inspiration of your own during our new Armenia & Georgia Discovery small group tour.

Travel Tips

Gate 1 Photo Friday from Budapest!

The Széchenyi Baths are located in Budapest, Hungary, and make up one of the largest bath complexes in all of Europe. This complex has a total of 21 pools and includes thermal/medicinal pools, saunas, massage therapies, facial treatments, lockers, aqua-fitness and much more! The baths are open to all and have user-friendly hours, so do not miss this truly unique and refreshing experience when visiting Budapest.


This week’s #g1photofriday was uploaded by user @ Paul Maruszak using the hashtag #gate1travel. This exciting view was taken in Budapest, Hungary at the Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Be sure to tag your photos on social media with #gate1travel or #g1photofriday to be featured. Check out Gate 1 Travel’s Budapest trips here!

Asia & PacificRegions

The Allure of Southeast Asia

Few regions of the world embody our ideal vision of paradise: emerald forests, turquoise waters lapping at palm-fringed beaches, an all-embracing and peace-loving religion, and a simple way of life even amidst the bustle of a sweeping metropolis. The nations of Southeast Asia show varying shades of all these things, and so much more. And for many visitors, what stands out is the relaxed ease and welcoming smiles of its residents. Gate 1 Travel helps you experience it all, with the help of our experienced local guides, who know the ins and outs of these enigmatic and beautiful lands.

Temples of Bangkok


Bangkok: A Polished Jewel

Bangkok is Thailand’s bustling and electrifying capital. Thais call it Krung Threp, or City of Angels. The more western name by which we know it translates into “riverside village of wild olives.” No matter what you call it, it’s sure to mesmerise you with its floating markets teeming with longboats, its ornate architecture and tropical gardens, and its glittering temples. It’s also a culturally diverse city, where paper dragons adorn the windows of Chinatown and the fragrance of curry wafts through the streets of Little India.

The city’s largest and oldest temple is Wat Po, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Within these hallowed halls, its namesake golden-hued deity is massive, stretching 150 feet long. The soles of its feet are intricately etched in mother-of-pearl. It is an extravagant show of spiritualism – and an echo of the nearby temple complex of the Grand Palace. Home to monarchs until 1925 and the fairytale setting of The King & I, today the Grand Palace serves a ceremonial function and is open for enraptured travellers to explore. Its Emerald Buddha in the Royal Temple is considerably more petite than the Reclining Buddha, standing only 26 inches, yet it is the most revered statue in the nation.

Vestiges of History

Statues such as the Reclining Buddha and the Emerald Buddha serve as spiritual touchstones for the Thai people. There’s another destination right outside Bangkok cherished by locals as the spiritual birthplace of the city: the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. The golden era of Thai history unfolded among what are now temple ruins and incredibly preserved streets. This was once a powerhouse of Southeast Asia. Its palaces, monasteries and temples inspired French King Louis XIV to compare the burgeoning metropolis to European capitals. It fell to the Burmese in 1767, after which the capital was moved to the riverside site of present-day Bangkok.

In Kanchanaburi province, a dark chapter in Thailand’s history is memorialised at the Bridge over the River Kwai & War Museum. In 1942, here in the tranquil countryside, the Japanese forced POWs to construct a 255-mile railway across Thailand in the blazing heat. More than 7,000 conscripted workers died. The bridge was the frequent target of Allied bombing and gained notoriety as the subject of the 1957 Alec Guinness movie by English director David Lean.

In central Thailand, a vast archaeological site tells ancient stories of Thailand’s founding. In fact, Sukhothai is to Thailand as Giza is to Egypt. Before Ayutthaya, this was Thailand’s first capital through the 13th and 14th centuries and its artistic and architectural remains are astounding. Part of what makes this city so fascinating are the philosophies under which its kings ruled: Sukhothai’s leaders respected the wishes of the people. Cultural and religious freedom set the tone for this flourishing civilisation. The UNESCO World Heritage Site enjoys a lush setting among leafy hills and peaceful lotus ponds.

Lush Northern Cultural Capitals

Established in 1262, Chiang Rai is one of the oldest cities in Thailand. This is the heart of Thailand’s northern Lanna Kingdom, the “Golden Triangle” historically shaped by its proximity to the borders of Burma (today’s Myanmar) and Laos. Gate 1 travellers have the chance to visit these countries, ascending a mountain in Myanmar for views of the stunning countryside and embarking on a serene cruise to the small Laotian island of Don Sao. Thailand’s renowned hill tribes eke out a living in the hills around Chiang Rai, too. An optional tour ventures into the jungle to introduce you to the fascinating and welcoming Akha, Long Neck and Salong tribes.

The capital of the Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Mai, hugs the banks of the Ping River among green hills. Elegant temples, cultural emporiums and long leisurely strolls await you in this graceful city surrounded by a canal. Chiang Mai is mostly known for its crafts culture, which you can dive into at the shops along Sankampang Street. Silk, lacquer, silver, wood and bronze are all transformed into intricate artwork here and you’re sure to come across a demonstration or two by craftspeople who keep their traditions alive.

Seaside Resorts

If the cultural heart of Thailand lies in the central and northern parts of the country, then a beach-going, laid-back spirit lounges around in the south. But it’s not all sun, sand and surf. In Pattaya on the Gulf of Thailand’s East Coast, break up your beach time with forays into a lively city and with a visit to one of the largest Floating Markets in the world.

On the island of Phuket, a traditional way of life lingers among infinite blue horizons and breathtaking natural beauty, as you’ll see when you browse the local Thai village, admire the Sino-Portuguese architecture and witness serene monks making their rounds for alms. Without question, it is the perfect island paradise for relaxation and doing nothing at all. But if you do want to explore, you can consider a visit to the mangrove jungles and towering limestone peaks around Phang Nga Bay and Lawa Island.

But perhaps no other Southeast Asia country is as linked to the sea as Vietnam.

Friendly faces of Vietnam


A Rich History and Colourful Culture North to South

Hanoi recently celebrated its 1,000th birthday. For much of its history, it has been the political and cultural capital of the country. During the nation’s more turbulent times, it was the capital of French Indochina (1902-1954) — during which its elegant colonial-era buildings were constructed — and of North Vietnam (1954-1976). More than 50 ethnic groups have shaped Hanoi and the surrounding region; many of their stories and cultural relics are on exhibit at the Museum of Ethnology. But perhaps nowhere is the nation’s heritage more dramatically represented than in the world-renowned water puppetry that originated here. These fascinating shows are performed over a pool of water, depicting ancient folktales and long-cherished lore set to traditional music and Cheo, a form of opera.

Nearby, more than 3,000 islands rise from the shimmering waters of Halong Bay, many of them several hundred feet tall. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is shrouded in myth and legend. According to one tale, the gods sent dragons to this coastline to protect the country and they spat out jade and other jewels into the water. These precious stones protected the land from enemies approaching by sea. Gate 1 takes you sailing among this breathtaking archipelago of karst cliffs on a traditional junk. Floating fishing villages and inviting sandy beaches cling to the shores and vast echoing caves have been carved within the hulking rocks over millennia.

Though Hue was the capital of Vietnam for only 143 years, from 1802 to 1945, its cultural influence on the region has been immeasurable. This may be because the Nguyen Dynasty that ruled from here constructed such a vast and imposing complex of palaces and fortresses. Their Imperial City has undergone remarkable restoration. Its most notable structures are the 1.5-mile wall that surrounds it, the Imperial Enclosure, Thai Hoa Palace (or the Hall of Supreme Harmony), Hall of the Mandarins and the Forbidden Purple City, named after its Chinese counterpart.

For a stroll through Vietnam’s past, there is no place in the world like Hoi An, a remarkably preserved trading port. The buildings and streets of its Old Quarter remain much as they were more than 500 years ago. As far back as the 8th century, a thriving spice trade brought unprecedented wealth into the region. Much later, a vibrant trade with Japan, China, India and Holland lured settlers here from those countries. With such a rich past, it’s easy to understand why Hoi An is an important UNESCO World Heritage Site. The spirit of its origins live on in the fascinating Old Quarter as artisans fashion paper lanterns and residents carry goods in wicker baskets hanging from sticks slung over shoulders.

Like in Hanoi, the city’s French colonial influence is prevalent in the glorious architecture and wide boulevards of Ho Chi Minh City, in the nation’s south. The twin-spired, neo-Romanesque Notre Dame Basilica was built with materials imported from France. The Saigon Opera House carries echoes of the Petit Palais in Paris. Even the Post Office was designed by a Frenchman, one Gustave Eiffel. The true Vietnam here lives in the city’s vibrant and mesmerising markets. Dong Khoi Street captures the pulse of the city with its colourful shops and aromatic food stalls. At the intoxicating indoor emporium of Ben Thanh Market, all things Vietnamese can be found, from handicrafts to ao dai, the traditional silk tunic worn by women. And at the city’s fascinating floating markets, ancient houses and canal-side stalls are orbited by traditional longboats laden with all manner of goods and produce plucked from local farms.

An entirely different culture greets you right next door. Indeed, you are sure to be enchanted by Cambodia’s authentic charms and Khmer legacies.

Cambodia’s famous Angkor Wat Temples


Grand Temples & Cultural Treasures

The centerpiece of any visit to Cambodia is the ancient city of Angkor, 40 square miles of stupendous architectural treasures unrivalled anywhere in the world. Its famous temple, Angkor Wat, took 25,000 workers 37 years to complete. Many historians call it the largest single religious monument in the world. Its five lotus-style spires are said to represent the five peaks of Mount Meru, home of deities from Hindu mythology. Its walls and moat symbolize Meru’s surrounding mountains and ocean. Remarkable in scale and design, it is considered a perfect example of the high classical style of Khmer architecture.

The bustling and laid-back city of Siem Reap is the gateway to this spectacular site. Its streets lined with colonial and Chinese-style architecture are a delight to explore, and the city’s artful Apsara dancers cast their spell on all who attend a performance. The city is also a launching point to one of the region’s most fascinating natural phenomena: Tonle Sap Lake. Loosely translated as “Great Lake,” Tonle Sap has an unusual geographic feature that affects village life on its shores. The flow of water exiting the lake changes direction twice a year. The lake empties into the Tonle Sap River, which later spills into the Mekong River and the Mekong Delta. During most of the year, the lake is fairly small and just three feet deep. But during monsoon season, the delta backs up. The resulting backwash reverses the Mekong’s flow and pushes water up the Tonle Sap River into the lake, enlarging its size six times, increasing its depth to 27 feet, and setting in motion the fishing season for surrounding villages.

Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, is the nation’s historic and cultural centre. One of the prettiest French-built cities at its colonial height, it was known as the “Pearl of Asia” and was named for 14th-century Wat Phnom, still the city’s tallest structure. Elegant architecture and gracious boulevards set a sophisticated tone here, and the city’s temples are simply spellbinding. The Royal Palace, especially, boasts magnificent treasures such as the Silver Pagoda, with its floor of 5,000 shimmering tiles and bejeweled Buddha statues.

Explore Even More of Southeast Asia at a Terrific Value

If you’re travelling this far, it would be a shame to miss out on all the riches that make Southeast Asia one of the most mesmerising destinations in the world. Gate 1 Travel makes it easy and affordable. Many of our itineraries combine the above destinations into one scintillating itinerary. Plus, you can indulge in even more experiences that bring this magical region to life. Step into Laos and explore the unspoiled charms of Luang Prabang, participating in a baci welcome ceremony, giving alms to orange-robed monks, and marvelling at the hundreds of Buddha statues during a boat trip to Pak Ou Caves.

Or marvel at the more than 2,000 pagodas, stupas, and temples that dot the golden plains of Bagan, Myanmar, just one exciting highlight of an enlightening cruise along the fabled Irrawaddy River.

With Gate 1 Travel, your possibilities in Southeast Asia really are endless. And our value is matchless. Feature for feature, you won’t find a program that beats our price and quality. Come and discover Southeast Asia for yourself!